From 'Good family father' to 'reasonable person'

A theoretical discussion of durability as an argument in favour of gender-inclusive legislative language


  • Vince Liégeois Université de Bourgogne


Gender-inclusive language, language change, language norms, legislative language, specialised communication


Gender-inclusive language is becoming increasingly important in legislation. In many countries, particularly within the European Union and the Commonwealth, there is a growing tendency for substituting gendered language structures with gender-inclusive ones in legislative texts. However, a gendered, and in particular masculine, language use remains the norm in these legal systems, with many legal scholars even doubting the positive effects attributed to gender-inclusive language. Consequently, it is important that within the fields of linguistics, legal and gender studies the various benefits and challenges of gender-inclusive language are properly weighed out against each other. To this end, this paper aims, on the one hand, to provide a comprehensive overview of (i) the principles and strategies of gender-inclusive language use, and (ii) the extent to which this gender-inclusive language is used in legislation and which benefits/problems have been formulated by previous literature. On the other hand, we consider durability as an additional argument in favour of using gender-inclusive language strategies in legislation. Departing from linguistic theory about language norms and the optimisation of specialised communication, we will illustrate how a too conservative language policy in legislation might lead to legislative language becoming an archaic language register. This means that legislative language will grow more and more distant from the language use in other communicative settings, as well as the standard language norm, in which we assume gender-inclusive strategies will keep gaining ground. This archaisation, in turn,  might create the possibility that jurists will turn to more hybrid registers for other legal settings and text genres, in particular when less institutionalised settings, spoken communication and communication with lay persons are involved, thus leading to the fragmentation of legal language. Therefore, we will argue that by (i) implementing a sufficient amount of gender-inclusive language in the law and (ii) setting out clear guidelines on which gender-inclusive strategies should be employed, legislative language can become more time-resistant and user-friendly (= durable). Furthermore, we will point out how such durability is expected to have secondary positive effects regarding (a) the endorsement of legislative texts by the public, (b) the learnability of legal language and, by extension, the law, (c) clarity, and (d) the correspondence of various provisions with social reality.   



2023-06-26 — Updated on 2023-06-28